Today is a time set apart for thinking like and playing the fool. This is not the day for Plato's fool (Republic Book IV) --hardly the stuff of the merrie fool of the Stultifera Navis (Foucault, Madness and Civilization, pp. 3-25). This is the day reserved to celebrate Lear's Fool, who is a fool for suffering fools and as a consequence whose foolishness causes us all to suffer the delusions of the fool.
Dost thou know the difference, my boy, between a bitter fool and a sweet one?
No, lad; teach me.
That lord that counsell’d thee
To give away thy land,
Come place him here by me,
Do thou for him stand.
The sweet and bitter fool
Will presently appear;
The one in motley here,
The other found out there.
Dost thou call me fool, boy?
All thy other titles thou hast given away; that thou wast born with.
W. Shakespeare, King Lear; Act 1 Scene IV
It s the day reserved for the exposure of folly, which is the great task of folly itself, and is in that exercise itself a folly, an extravagance.
To those ends I reserve the day in homage to the folly of law and its counselors, that motley and rollicking collection of self absorbed (but that of course is the essence of their folly) fools who perpetuate its folly. And who better to remind us of the ancient follies of law and its ship of fools, than Sebastian Brandt's Daß Narrenschyff ad Narragoniam ("Ship of Fools") (1494) in its roughly contemporaneous translation (1509) by Alexander Barclay (Project Gutenberg EBook #20179 (2006) from the 1874 edition). And in honor of this April Fool's day I provide a contemplation of the folly of the law and its counselor as set out in Vol I's "Of euyl Counsellours, Juges and men of lawe" which opens with a caption to the woodblock and text that follow below:
He that Office hath and hyghe autorite.
To rule a Royalme: as Juge or Counsellour
Which seynge Justice, playne ryght and equyte
Them falsly blyndeth by fauour or rigour
Condemnynge wretches gyltles. And to a Transgressour
For mede shewinge fauour. Suche is as wyse a man
As he that wolde seeth a quycke Sowe in a Pan.
"Of euyl Counsellours, Juges and men of lawe"
Right many labours nowe, with hyghe diligence
For to be Lawyers the Comons to counsayle.
Therby to be in honour had and in reuerence
But onely they labour for theyr pryuate auayle.
The purs of the Clyent shal fynde hym apparayle.
And yet knowes he neyther lawe good counsel nor Justice.
But speketh at auenture: as men throwe the dyce.
Suche in the Senate ar taken oft to counsayle
With Statis of this and many a other region.
Whiche of theyr maners vnstable ar and frayle
Nought of Lawe Ciuyl knowinge nor Canon.
But wander in derknes clerenes they haue none.
O noble Rome thou gat nat thy honours
Nor general Empyre by suche Counsellours.
Whan noble Rome all the worlde dyd gouerne
Theyr councellers were olde men iust and prudent
Whiche egally dyd euery thynge descerne
Wherby theyr Empyre became so excellent
But nowe a dayes he shall haue his intent
That hath most golde, and so it is befall
That aungels worke wonders in westmynster hall.
There cursyd coyne makyth the wronge seme right
The cause of hym that lyueth in pouertye
Hath no defence, tuycion, strength nor myght
Suche is the olde custome of this faculte
That colours oft cloke Justyce and equyte
None can the mater fele nor vnderstonde
Without the aungell be weyghty in his honde
Thus for the hunger of syluer and of golde
Justyce and right is in captyuyte
And as we se nat gyuen fre, but solde
Nouther to estates, nor sympell comonte
And though that many lawyers rightwysnes be
Yet many other dysdayne to se the ryght
And they ar suche as blynde Justycis syght
There is one and other alleged at the barre
And namely suche as chrafty were in glose
Upon the lawe: the clyentis stande afarre
Full lytell knowynge howe the mater goose
And many other the lawes clene transpose
Folowynge the example, of lawyers dede and gone
Tyll the pore Clyentis be etyn to the bone
It is not ynough to conforme thy mynde
Unto the others faynyd opynyon
Thou sholde say trouthe, so Justyce doth the bynde
And also lawe gyueth the commyssyon
To knowe hir, and kepe hir without transgressyon
Lyst they whome thou hast Juged wrongfully
Unto the hye Juge for vengeaunce on the crye.
Perchaunce thou thynkest that god taketh no hede
To mannes dedys, nor workes of offence
Yes certaynly he knowes thy thought and dede
No thynge is secrete, nor hyd from his presence
Wherefore if thou wylt gyde the by prudence
Or thou gyue Jugement of mater lesse or more
Take wyse mennys reade and good counsayle before
Loke in what Balance, what weyght and what mesure
Thou seruest other. for thou shalt serued be
With the same after this lyfe I the ensure.
If thou ryghtwysly Juge by lawe and equyte
Thou shalt haue presence of goddes hyghe maiestye
But if thou Juge amys: than shall Eacus
(As Poetis sayth) hell Juge thy rewarde discusse
God is aboue and regneth sempiternally.
Whiche shall vs deme at his last Jugement,
And gyue rewardes to echone egally
After suche fourme as he his lyfe hath spent
Than shall we them se whome we as violent
Traytours: haue put to wronge in worde or dede
And after our deserte euen suche shall be our mede
There shall be no Bayle nor treatynge of maynpryse
Ne worldly wysdome there shall no thynge preuayle
There shall be no delayes vntyll another Syse
But outher quyt, or to infernall Gayle.
Ill Juges so iuged, Lo here theyr trauayle
Worthely rewarded in wo withouten ende.
Than shall no grace be graunted ne space to amende.
The Enuoy of Alexander Barclay the translatour.
Therfore ye yonge Studentes of the Chauncery:
(I speke nat to the olde the Cure of them is past)
Remember that Justyce longe hath in bondage be
Reduce ye hir nowe vnto lybertye at the last.
Endeuer you hir bondes to louse or to brast
Hir raunsome is payde and more by a thousande pounde
And yet alas the lady Justyce lyeth bounde.
Thoughe your fore Faders haue take hir prysoner
And done hir in a Dongeon nat mete for hir degre
Lay to your handes and helpe hir from daungere
And hir restore vnto hir lybertye
That pore men and monyles may hir onys se
But certaynly I fere lyst she hath lost hir name
Or by longe prysonment shall after euer be lame.